4 ideas for gentle weaning

beth mckay 2I often hear of the struggles mothers face when trying to nurse a baby in those first few weeks. For me, that has not been the case. Although both of my sons nursed differently, neither had difficulty nursing.

My experience is the opposite. My struggle comes at the end of the nursing relationship rather than the beginning.

For some mothers, weaning can be the most difficult part of the nursing relationship. Usually this difficulty arises when the mother would like the nursing relationship to end or change, but the child feels differently.

Imagine yourself in your child’s place. Your milk is what your child has known since the first day he or she came earthside. Your milk tastes good, but it also comforts and provides warmth and the feeling of safety. Imagine how difficult it might be to let something like this go. Imagine how much harder it would be if you were not emotionally, physically, and developmentally ready to let that something go.

Up to this point, your child has a positive perception of nursing. This perception can remain by weaning gently.

Consider how the word “gentle” affects the meaning of the word “weaning” when added to it to create a phrase. The negative connotation associated with weaning lessens. With the addition of the word “gentle” comes a positive connotation. This process will be slow, kind, loving, and without pain.

Gentle weaning is important. It is important to the development of our children. We know that negative experiences cause stress and can affect our children physically and emotionally. As parents, we want to limit the negative experiences of our children — not create them. Gentle weaning allows for mothers to wean children without creating a negative experience.

Just as gentle weaning is important to the development of our children, it is also important for the mother. At some point, every nursing mother will experience a nursing aversion, being “touched out,” pain (from ovulation, latch, or pregnancy), exhaustion from night nursing, and so on. It is important to remember that these feelings are temporary in the grand scheme of things.

Just as the child has a positive experience with nursing, the mother also shares in this experience. Weaning that is not gentle could create negative experiences that the mother will have with her for the rest of her life. The idea of living with no regrets can be applied to this situation. Weaning before the child is ready or weaning that is not gentle could create regret for the mother and negatively affect the mother.

For me, I wanted to start the weaning process when my son was about 18 months old, because I wanted to try to conceive another baby. Nursing proved to be an excellent birth control for me, and I thought that reducing some nursing sessions might help my cycle return.

beth mckay 1When my son and I started our weaning journey, I talked to experienced friends and researched weaning. The following are some ideas that helped me:

  1. Reduce the amount of time for some or all nursing sessions — Try to limit the nursing session to a certain amount of time. Set a timer for a specific amount of time.
  2. Reduce the number of nursing sessions — If your child nurses 5 times during the day, slowly reduce the time of one session until you eliminate it completely. Continue the process until all sessions are eliminated.
  3. Set limitations for when nursing can take place — Perhaps you would feel more balanced to only nurse during the daytime or only at bedtime and in the morning.
  4. Set limitations for where nursing can take place — I started by not nursing in public. If my son asked to nurse when in public, I would tell him that we needed privacy and to wait until we got to our car.

In order to be gentle, these ideas need to develop slowly, and the mother needs to be willing to judge each situation individually. For example, even though we only nursed in private, if my son got hurt, I would still nurse in public if he asked. Nothing has to be set in stone.

Nursing a child is a positive experience for both the mother and child, and it can remain that way through weaning by using a gentle process.

And we said bye-bye to breastfeeding

divya singh 1This holiday season, my 3-1/2-year-old daughter and I said bye-bye to our breastfeeding relationship on a very happy note. Here is how it worked for us:

When my daughter turned 2 years old, every now and then I talked about weaning, but she wanted to continue the morning and bedtime nursings. Then, on Thanksgiving weekend at the end of November, our weaning time came.

With a bad cold, she had been nursing a couple times at night in the 7 to 10 days before. One of these mornings I had sore nipples, and I told her I was hurting so she should be gentle. To my surprise, she just licked both sides and called it done. The following morning, she wanted to just cuddle, talk and sing before starting our day.

The first two nights after this, I intentionally avoided our bedtime routine — which she had been okay with on some recent weekends — because she was very tired, having missed her naps at daycare. The third night, after our usual night routine — to my amazement — she said she didn’t want “amma duddhu” (mommy’s milk)! I knew then that she was done.

And we said bye-bye:

And we said bye-bye to “amma duddhu.”
You didn’t cry, nor did I —
One small step, one big moment,
To let go of this elixir so potent!

And we said bye-bye to “amma duddhu.”
You were ready, and so was I —
A moment to pause, and celebrate,
So many to thank and dedicate!

And we said bye-bye to “amma duddhu,”
Like your first walk, like your first talk,
This was surely one milestone,
On this parenting voyage, a large capstone!

And we said bye-bye to “amma duddhu.”
When so many said you were too old to nurse
And questioned why I continued to nurse,
You affirmed our bond like a poem or verse!

Thanks for choosing me, your amma!

When Your Partner Wants You to Wean: Heart Advice for Nursing Mothers

*The terms “husband” and “partner” are used interchangeably throughout this post.

“She’s too old to nurse. You need to stop.”

“There’s no way my son is nursing when he’s three years old!”

“You are being selfish. Breastfeeding past one year is unnecessary. You only do this because it gives you pleasure.”

“I should have a say in this situation. Why do you get to decide how long he nurses?”

“What if I took her away from you and made you stop nursing?”

Perhaps you have heard these very words. Perhaps you have heard variations on the theme. If so, you understand the instinctive fear and sadness that can rise up in a breastfeeding mother’s body when a demand for premature weaning is given–especially when this comes from her husband or partner.

Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful and gentle expressions of human love on the planet. Tragically, it can become a subject of discord between you and your husband. Harsh words, demands or threats about breastfeeding can tarnish your memories of nursing. The added tension in your home is unhealthy for all members of the family.

According to the World Health Organization, La Leche League International, The American Pediatric Association and Attachment Parenting International, a breastfeeding mother should continue to nurse–once the minimum recommended length of breastfeeding is met–as long as it is “mutually desired” by herself and her child. All of these organizations acknowledge the important role a father plays in offering support to the breastfeeding mother.

Knowing that you have the backing of such institutions may be helpful. But it probably doesn’t ease the emotional anguish of feeling the pressure to wean before you and your child are ready. In fact, such official statements may be a source of frustration for your husband, who wants or demands to play a role in determining how long his child will nurse.

The questions remain: What should you do when the vital support of your partner is withdrawn? Should you wean on demand?

May the following four points embolden, strengthen and encourage you as you navigate your way to answering to these painful questions.

Learn and Share

Take the time to thoroughly research the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of nurturing a secure attachment. Perhaps, like many breastfeeding mothers, you are fully committed to child-led weaning. As one mother stated, “Only one person gets to decide when my son is ready to wean, and that is my son.”

Or perhaps, like many breastfeeding mothers, you acknowledge that a shift in the mother-child nursing dynamic can occur on either side of the equation. You may be open to a gentle approach to weaning that is mother-initiated if your feelings towards nursing change. Many thoughtful and gentle approaches to weaning described by attachment-minded leaders such as Dr. William Sears exist. By researching, you will clarify why breastfeeding is important to you and be able to articulate your vision of weaning.

Most importantly, invite your husband into this experience. While it’s important to share what you have learned through your research, it’s even more important to ask him to research the topic on his own. We all learn best when our inquiry is self-initiated. Perhaps his lack of support may simply come from ignorance. He may not know that the World Health Organization recommends that children breastfeed until they are at least two years old as a minimum standard for health. He may not understand that the health and emotional benefits of nursing continue through the toddler years. As you both do your research, you can each learn, clarify and share your insights–ideally with compassion.

Identify Underlying Issues

Can the issues fueling your partner’s demand to wean be identified? Explore the possible causes of the negativity associated with your nursing. Is your husband jealous? Is your partner feeling left out of the parenting experience? Does he have his own special “Daddy Time” to nurture important memories of fatherhood? What unconscious memories does your husband carry about his own weaning? Is your partner embarrassed by your breastfeeding? Does he want exclusive access to your body?

We live in a culture full of explicit material featuring the female body as a source of male pleasure, yet mothers who nurse in public face scorn. We live in a culture in which many of us were weaned before our natural time, perhaps due to pressure from our own fathers. We live in a culture in which only a minority of children experience the benefits of breastfeeding as nature intended. Both underlying personal issues within the relationship and underlying patterns that come from social dynamics can fuel a husband’s demand for his wife to stop nursing. See if you can identify what the core issues are. Breastfeeding can be a symbol for deeper discord that is being projected upon the mother-child relationship.

Find Support

Breastfeeding without the support of your partner is not an easy road to traverse. It’s also not easy to wish for something to change and meet resistance. I’ve spent hours in conversation with women who deeply regret giving into the pressure that led to an early weaning of their children. I’ve also spent hours in conversation with men who struggle with supporting their wives or partners in breastfeeding. They feel left out, angry and sometimes disgusted by the continued nursing relationship. Offering loving support to both individuals in this situation is vital if a healthy resolution is to unfold.

As you both seek support, consider meeting with other breastfeeding-friendly families. Let the men speak together about their fears, hopes and struggles when it comes to supporting their partners in breastfeeding. For yourself, speak candidly and openly with other nursing mothers. Join online breastfeeding support forums and reach out to trusted friends. The pressure to stop nursing before you or your child are ready can feel overwhelming. Do not keep this stress private. Have the courage to share your story with other mothers; you will find it is far more common than not.

Certainly, if your husband’s demands feel relentless or turn into threats, seek professional support. A trained marriage counselor who understands the importance of breastfeeding is invaluable here. Not only will this person offer encouragement for breastfeeding and a healthy approach to weaning, but a skilled mediator can also help your partner identify underlying issues that fuel his current demands, as well as supporting both of you in open and honest communication.

Nourish Yourself

There is a deep wisdom found in the natural dynamic between a nursing mother and child. Breastfeeding eases transitions into and out of sleep, helps calm stressed nervous systems and provides nutritive wonders that science still cannot decode. The season of breastfeeding is short-lived, even if it extends through the toddler years. Ideally, as long as both the mother and child are in harmony, the bond found in breastfeeding should be supported. Remember, you cannot turn back the clock. Once a child is weaned, the nursing stage of life for that child is over. Your pain in having this bond threatened mirrors a greater pain present in our society.

161052_1659As you navigate this difficulty, you need to nourish yourself. It’s imperative. Be sure to continue eating well and exercising. If you have a spiritual or religious practice, you may wish to dive deeply into the wisdom of silence and/or prayer. Find a source of strength that is greater than your own understanding to uplift you. Take refuge in the beauty of breastfeeding. Take refuge in the wisdom in nature. Find strength in the support of women. May these gifts nourish you at this time.



Dr. Sears Comments on TIME Magazine’s Attachment Parenting Cover Article

Guest blogger Dr. Bill Sears shares his thoughts on the much talked about TIME Magazine Attachment Parenting Article, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood.”

Hello parents!  The cover was risky but a brilliant hook by Time Magazine to attract readers, and they achieved their goal.  The writer, Kate Pickert, herself a new mother and one of Time’s most diligent writers, sincerely wanted to increase awareness of the Sears’ family contribution to parenting and family health.  She lived with our family for two days, followed me in the office, and spent hours with me on the phone in an attempt to be factual.  While the cover photo is not what I or even cover-mom Jamie would have chosen, it accomplished the magazine’s purpose.  And, as some attachment dads observed, finally a magazine displays a woman’s breast for the real purpose for which they were designed – to nurture a child, not to sell cars and beer.  Cover-mom Jamie is a super-nice person and highly-educated in anthropology, nutrition and theology.  I enjoyed the several hours I spent with her family and her kids shined with the social effects of attachment parenting.

Even though I’m used to being misunderstood and misquoted, as is attachment parenting (AP), I had a few concerns.  AP is not extreme.  It’s very natural and instinctual.  It’s the oldest parenting style in the world.  Nor is breastfeeding three years extreme, at least throughout the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for optimal health children be breastfed for at least two years and sometimes recommends three years.

Another misconception was AP is difficult for the mother who works outside the home.  It’s just the opposite.  Women are the greatest multi-taskers in the world.  AP, modified to the parents’ work schedule, helps busy parents reconnect with their child, which actually makes working and parenting easier.  It’s attachment moms that forged the long overdue workplace-friendly breastfeeding-pumping stations and laws which respect and value the ability of a working mother to continue part-time breastfeeding.

Regarding the science criticism, it’s impossible to scientifically prove by a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study (the gold standard in science) that AP works better than a more distant style of parenting.  You would have to take a thousand mothers who practice AP and another thousand who don’t, and see how their kids turn out.  What parent would sign up for such a study?   Yet there is one long-term effect that science does agree on: The more securely-attached an infant is, the more securely independent the child becomes.

I’m disappointed the article did not pay more attention to the bottom-line of attachment parenting: how AP children turn out – and that’s where this style of parenting really shines.  In my 40 years of studying the long-term effects of what parents do to help their children turn out well, AP kids generally are more: empathetic and compassionate, relate better to people, are easier to discipline, and are just nicer to be around.  When I walk into an exam room in my office, an AP baby, like a little sunflower, naturally turns toward my face and lights up.  I’ve yet to see an AP child be a school bully.  On the contrary, they are the ones who try to comfort a hurting child.

Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation.

Over my years of mentoring attachment parents, the main two words of feedback I have heard is empowering and validating.  My “helper’s high” file is filled with thank you letters such as: “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for validating what my heart and gut tell me is right.”  “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for empowering us new parents with your personal experience to help us enjoy our children more.”

As an investment banker dad once told me: “AP is one of the best long-term investments you can make in giving your child a greater chance of growing up happier, healthier, and smarter.”  Aren’t those the three main qualities we all want for our children?

Normalizing Extended Breastfeeding

The Momosphere is all atwitter over Time Magazine’s cover story: “Are You Mom Enough?” From its “shocking” cover photo to its provocative title, it’s obvious Time was shooting for “mommy war” controversy (something I work hard to stay away from).

If I shy away from controversy, why would I ever agree to the possibility of being on the cover of Time? Because I want to normalize breastfeeding past infancy. Extended does not equal extreme.

People have said that my son (and moreso Jaime’s son, who is on the cover) will be upset or embarrassed someday by this article. But that is the attitude we are trying to change – we do not want the sight of an older nursling to cause a stir ten years from now. By agreeing to be a part of this photo shoot, we wanted to create opportunities for conversation and education about how normal and natural it is to nurture our little ones by nursing past infancy. We want our children to never bat an eye at the sight of a mother breastfeeding past infancy.

So how can one photo stir up such controversy and negativity? And why would any mother choose to nurse for longer than a year?

The Decision to Breastfeed – For Three Months or Three Years – Is Culturally Influenced

Western culture tends to focus on the sexual aspect of the female breast much more than on its biological role of breastfeeding, despite the fact that we are mammals. The word “mammal” is derived from mammary glands. Mammary glands are those amazing parts of our breasts, the primary purpose of which is to feed our young. So while we often hear about nursing moms being asked to leave or cover up, you rarely hear about petitions to have Victoria Secret ads removed from evening television or city billboards. Go figure, eh?

In addition to our culture’s fascination with breasts as sexual objects, breastfeeding is also “modified by a wide variety of [cultural] beliefs, not only about infant health and nutrition, but also about the nature of human infancy and the proper relationships between mother and child, and between mother and father1.”

That must explain many of the objections I’ve read whenever there is an article about nursing past infancy. There are vague complaints about it being “too sexual.” That it encourages children to be overly dependent on mothers. That it is somehow at odds with a child’s development (ever heard the one about children old enough to “ask” should not be nursing?).

Nursing older children, however, is not a new thing. Not only is there evidence that mothers have nursed past toddlerhood throughout human history (and have been recommended to by physicians!), but cultures around the world continue to nurse to three years or beyond today2. If nursing past infancy were a harmful practice, the human race would not have flourished so.

And so while the “median age of weaning throughout the world is between ages three and five[,]” here in North America we are weaning our children when they are far younger.

Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy Benefits Children and Mothers

The biologically normal benefits of breastfeeding do not magically disappear once a baby turns a year old. Breastmilk still provides nutrition that is far superior to cow milk. It contains an abundance of antibodies. “In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process3.”
Think about it like this:

Suppose you have an oil well in your back yard. Like all oil wells, its yield is highest in the first year. You get a check for $100,000 dollars. Great! So now do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for only $10,000. Do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for $1,000. Do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for $100. Do you cap the well? [The] point [is], the well will *always* yield a benefit. . .

Breastfeeding works something like that. Its nutritional and immunological importance wanes over time. But there’s never, never a time when it’s not a good food or a good source of antinfectives. And, of course, this analogy doesn’t address the emotional value, the place breastfeeding has in the mother-child relationship4.

For the record, the American Academy of Family Physicians has said: “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years.

So this idea of a mother breastfeeding her three or four year old as unnatural? It’s incorrect.

Breastfeeding can continue to be a normal, healthy part of your relationship with your child into toddlerhood and beyond. It has been one reason that my son counts my embrace as the most secure, loving place he knows. (He told me!)

Did you breastfeed past infancy? Why or why not?

References, and for more information

1. Jen Davis, <a href=”http://www.lalecheleague.org/nb/nbsepoct07p196.html”>Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences, and more</a> quoting Dettwyler, K.A. “A Time to Wean” in Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995.

2. For more on these studies, check out Breastfeeding Beyond a Year and the studies cited therein (along with the reference to physicians recommending extended breastfeeding), A Natural Age of Weaning by Kathryn Dettwyler, Natural Weaning by Norma Jane Bumgarner, and ChildInfo.org.

3. Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citing Goldman AS. et al., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During Weaning, Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman, A., Goldblum R.M., Garza C., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During the Second Year of Lactation, Acta Paediatr Scand 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Hamosh M, Dewey, Garza C, et al: Nutrition During Lactation. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 133-140)] The longer you breastfeed, the less risk you have of developing breast cancer, endometrial cancer, or ovarian cancer.[6. See Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet and citations therein, and 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child and citations therein.

4. Nursing Past a Year at The Compleat Mother

TIME Magazine Shows Attachment Parenting is Going Mainstream, Not Extreme

When we, Attachment Parenting International, learned that TIME Magazine decided to take on attachment parenting in its May 21, 2012 issue, we had to ask, “TIME, are you news magazine enough?”

Beyond the incendiary attempt to pit mothers against each other asking, “Are you mom enough?,” and a strategic cover contrived to sell copies, what did TIME actually say about attachment parenting?

In case you don’t get very far past the cover, here is what TIME happened to acknowledge to the world about attachment parenting:

Dr. William Sears, with Martha Sears, deserve recognition for changing the course of parenting and giving parents The Baby Book 20 years ago. Dr. Sears is noted by TIME as “The Man Who Remade Motherhood” and author of many parenting books, including The Baby Book: “First published in 1992, The Baby Bookis now in print in 18 languages, with more than 1.5 million copies sold.”

Attachment parenting is changing how we parent: “Chances are also good that, consciously or not, you’ve practiced some derivative of attachment parenting or been influenced by its message that mothers and babies evolved to be close to each other.”

“Fans and critics of attachment parenting can agree on two things: there has been a sea change in American childrearing over the past 20 years, and no one has been a more enthusiastic cheerleader for it than Sears.”

“So many of the ideas of attachment parenting are in the culture even if you don’t believe in Dr. Sears per se,” says Pamela Druckerman , author of Bringing Up Bébé.

“[Attachment parenting] is a new common sense.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

Nurturing touch fosters security: “…it’s hard to argue with his overall message that babies who are cuddled feel secure.”

Breastfeeding promotes bonding: “He surely deserves credit for promoting breastfeeding and the idea that the bond between mother and baby is critical.”

Consistent and loving care is key: “The difference between children without consistent relationships with parents (or parental figures of any kind) and well-parented children who are fed formula (instead of breastmilk) and put in bouncy seats (instead of slings) is huge. The former, science says, are headed for developmental and emotional problems.”

Fathers are not incidental to attachment parenting:
“Much of Sears’ instruction for fathers revolves around the supportive role they can play for their wives.” “Sears also encourages “attachment fathering,” pointing out that dads can wear their babies just as well as mothers.”

Many AP moms work outside the home: “[Sears] says about 60% of mothers with children in his pediatric practice work outside their homes, and indeed, some career mothers are drawn to an attachment parenting model that helps them get close to their babies when they finally come home from work.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

Breastfeeding beyond infancy is … natural: “In 2008, the American Academy of Family Physicians did its part to try to destigmatize nursing toddlers and older children, applauding the WHO guidelines even as it acknowledged that extended breastfeeding “is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement.” The group added: It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years. Family physicians should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits to the child of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency. The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer. There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.”
(TIME, Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?, Bonnie Rochman)

Weaning happens naturally: “So I rarely had to contend with strangers’ stares because the older my kids got, the less they nursed. That’s the normal progression of things – it’s how weaning is ideally supposed to work.”
(TIME, Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?, Bonnie Rochman)

Attachment parenting advocates societal change to accommodate family wellbeing: “More power to all of us. Let’s not blame our breasts for the other societal issues – like unequal pay, lack of daycare and having to protect our babies from toxins – that are holding us back.”
(TIME, Why Breast-Feeding Isn’t the Bugaboo, Dominique Browning)

Greater acceptance of nursing, including in public, helps families meet their babies’ needs: The world wonders what the discussion is: “But much of the world doesn’t share America’s uneasiness. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breast-feeding up to a child’s second birthday ‘or beyond.’ Most U.S. mothers don’t even meet the recommendation made by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General that they skip infant formula and breast-feed exclusively for a mere six months.”
(TIME, Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?, Bonnie Rochman)

Parenting with intention may be healing and address unresolved needs: “Our parenting preferences matter deeply to us – they boost our self-esteem, or perhaps soothe and heal us from having been parented in a way that didn’t meet our needs.”
(TIME, “Parents Do What’s Right for Them,” Judith Warner)

There is value in being responsive to infant cries. We know responding will not spoil an infant. So if the research on “cry it out” is not conclusive, no need to support ignoring cries and the parent urge to respond, in lieu of building trust and a stronger relationship, and relying on support if needed. After finding in his research the science behind Dr. Sears’ work lacking, Jeffrey Kluger does acknowledge: “None of this means that Sears’ larger philosophy of attachment parenting is fatally flawed – as his millions of believers and their happy, well-adjusted babies would surely attest.”
(TIME, The Science Behind Dr. Sears: Does it Stand Up?, Jeffrey Kluger)

Attachment Parenting holds up to scrutiny: “[Mothers] research; they seek out best practices; they join a group, form a committee and agitate for their version of feeding/disciplining/sleeping. If you don’t believe me, just visit a breast-feeding support group with former litigators, marketing executives and investment bankers.”
(TIME, How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering, Belinda Luscombe)

Parents are actively advancing the field of parenting; the sciences of development and attachment are affirming their parenting instincts: “We’ve educated women to forge a new path. Why did we think they’d treat raising children any differently?”
(TIME, How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering, Belinda Luscombe)

Balance and support are essential to parenting: “Sears tells mothers, “Do the best you can with the resources you have”; he tells husbands to book massages for their wives and shoo them out of the house so they can get a break from parenting.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

This TIME magazine issue does have parents reading between the lines, pleased to discover the attachment parenting name to what they’ve been practicing.

We certainly don’t expect Attachment Parenting International promotional material from TIME magazine, so the work remains to shift culture to responsive and compassionate parenting, and to make clarifications as needed:

Attachment parenting is motivated by a desire to raise well adjusted, strong, independent children, as parents meet the trust and other emotional needs of the child from the very start and it’s not the case that: “…it’s more about parental devotion and sacrifice than about raising self-sufficient kids.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

The essence of attachment parenting is loving care that features a reciprocal, relational approach that goes deeper than this simple formula: “The three basic tenets are breast-feeding (sometimes into toddlerhood), co-sleeping (inviting babies into the parental bed or pulling a bassinet alongside it) and “baby wearing,” in which infants are literally attached to their mothers via slings.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

“Attachment parenting is in many ways the practical application of my father’s theory,” writes Sir Richard Bowlby Bt., who “lectures to promote a much broader understanding of his father’s work [Dr. John Bowlby] on attachment theory,” in his endorsement of API co-founders’, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, book Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children, just to begin addressing the criticism that “The science on attachment is also easily misunderstood and misused. The father of attachment theory is John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst who in the mid – 20th century studied orphans and children abandoned by their mothers.”
(TIME, The Man Who Remade Motherhood, Kate Pickert)

There is nothing that prohibits a parent who works from incorporating the heart of relationship with attachment parenting. Perhaps they may elect to breastfeed or bottlenurse; babywear; or cosleep safely (not necessarily in the adult bed) to get more sleep; and at least nurture their child without spanking or shaming; and respond with sensitivity most of the time. Many find attachment parenting makes parenting and working more compatible, not “impossibly demanding” as Judith Warner perceives: “That’s why William Sears, for all his insistence on flexibility and admonitions to ‘do the best you can with the resources you have,’ strikes so many of us as impossibly demanding for any woman who wants or simply needs to keep out-of-home work a viable part of her life.”
(TIME, “Parents Do What’s Right for Them,” Judith Warner)

Yes, the AP crowd is on average pretty well educated, but it isn’t affluence that determines their choices — many continue to make financial sacrifices based on what science (and their own hearts) say is best for their children.“The affluent, slightly older and well educated moms who are most likely perusing parenting books like those written by William Sears have already tasted financial independence, self-sufficiency and freedom of movement.”
(TIME, “Parents Do What’s Right for Them,” Judith Warner)

We welcome TIME Magazine giving attachment parenting a public platform for discussion. For many years we have been witnessing a silent transition of the mainstream culture to attachment parenting–not extremism, as parents experience the benefits of parenting compassionately and become more confident in trusting their instincts.

TIME, the blame for mother guilt does not lie with attachment parenting or with any other type of parenting philosophy or culture — the complexity and balancing act of motherhood, encompassing mommy guilt or even typical healthy doubt as we navigate our way, existed before attachment parenting resurfaced. In fact, while TIME perpetuates the idea of an epidemic of immobilizing mommy guilt, moms of every stripe are in no uncertain terms countering, “Yes, we are mom enough.” AP brings balance and self-acceptance to mothers, embracing our imperfections and even recognizing how the repairs we make with our children strengthen and grow the attachment relationship. Now, we must move past the misconceptions and myths some of the conversation is dominated by and collectively think of the future we are raising.

Attachment parenting has a pedigree that goes to the beginning of history, rooted in a theory that has 60 years of formal research behind it, and 20 years of reclaiming our parenting instincts from disproven constructs of baby training and ignoring infant cries. If examined without bias and preconceptions, TIME may well one day report on attachment parenting as a “new” scientific discovery. The front cover and title would hail attachment parenting as the next life-changing advancement in society that benefits children, mothers, fathers, families, and society; but it’s enough for now.

Attachment Parenting International

Interview Series: Martha Wood

We are continuing our interview series with API Contributing Bloggers with Martha Wood.  Read on to hear more about her thoughts regarding weaning, co-parenting, and how she peacefully deals with breastfeeding criticism.

Tell us about your family.

I am a single mom, co-parenting with my daughter’s father. She is 2.5. She is my only child. We live in Austin, Tx. We are a biracial family. I am white and my daughter’s father is black. I grew up in Abilene, Tx. Annika’s dad is Nigerian born and immigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old. He grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. Annika’s dad and I were never married. We met in Detroit, MI, while attending Wayne State University. We worked together at the school newspaper, The South End. I was the news editor and he was the graphic designer.

Martha and Annika

What led you to Attachment Parenting?

I was drawn to attachment parenting through a series of random events and a background of being raised by a mother who was involved with La Leche League. I was nursed until I was 3, and slept with my parents until I was 4. I would not characterize my parents as “AP” but there were some similarities in their early parenting style, such as extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping.

I began being interested in the AP world when a friend gave me a copy of The Baby Book by William Sears. I liked what he had to say about co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing and positive discipline. During my pregnancy I met a neighbor of my mom’s who had given birth to her first child just six months before me. She told me about the local API meetings at the library and I began attending mostly because I wanted to get out of the house and I thought I would meet some other moms to hang out with. After the first meeting I was hooked! I loved the speaker, although, I don’t even remember who it was. I was blown away by all the wonderful and alternative parenting methods I had discovered.

When I was pregnant I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and use a sling. I knew that I wanted to avoid spanking as a method of discipline. I knew that I wanted to have a better and closer relationship with my daughter than I had with my own parents. After this meeting, I knew that I had found the answers to my questions. Luckily for me, the first meeting I attended was when my daughter was about four weeks old.

I had begun co-sleeping about two weeks after she was born, after realizing how frustrating and tiring it was getting up to nurse twice a night. (I was lucky, in that my daughter slept really well as a newborn, believe me, that changed after a few months. 🙂 )

How do you deal with friends/family/strangers who don’t understand or who disagree with AP practices?

My parents are very supportive about the way I parent. My daughter’s father and I have disagreed on some of it, but overall he is a really good dad and often more patient than I am! He wishes that I had weaned her at a year, and doesn’t like the co-sleeping, but he hasn’t fought me on it.

It depends on the situation whether I just smile and nod, or try to educate. If I think someone is open to hearing about my views, I definitely try to educate and give supporting information about my parenting practices.

My daughter’s paternal grandmother has been very vocal about disagreeing with my parenting style, and for the sake of familial harmony, I usually don’t say anything. They live in another state though, so it has not been a real issue. When she was 18 months, and I nursed my daughter in front of her grandmother, she commented, “Are you STILL nursing????” I just said yes and looked away. Then her sister, who was visiting from Nigeria, leaned over and whispered that she had nursed her babies until they were 2.

After that, I just avoided nursing Annika in front of her grandmother. My mother told me that when I was that age, if she needed to nurse me, she would just take me in the other room. So that’s what I did on our next visit. I am normally not the type of person to avoid confrontation, but in this case, I felt like it was the easiest and most harmonious route.

Have you ever had an affirming moment in your AP journey?

So far I haven’t seen a lot of payoff. But there have been some brief moments. My daughter is unusually compassionate with other children. I’ve been told by other parents that they are surprised by how sweet she is with other children. Once she was staying with a small group of children at a Buddhist meeting that we attend sometimes. When one of the other babies was crying for her mom, I was told that Annika went over to her and put her arm around her and told her that it would be okay. (She’s 2.)

She also loves to “wear” her babies, and she nurses them.

What does 2011 hold for your family? What goals do you have for your kids/ family in the coming year?

2011 holds for us, more time away from mama, and possibly weaning. I always wanted to let Annika wean on her own, but I am really ready for it. I am thinking that we will give up nursing around her third birthday in May. We have started talking about it and are down to three times a day. We are also forming a Montessori co-op with a group of AP mamas from our playgroups. I am looking forward to keeping her world small for a few more years while giving both of us a little more freedom.

When to stop breastfeeding is such a hard choice to make.  What factors are you considering in your decision?  How are you going about weaning?

The idea of making any final decision on when to stop breastfeeding stresses me out, so I haven’t made any hard and fast rules about when we will stop. I keep thinking that I’d like to be done by the time she’s 3 (this May). Sometimes I tell myself that I will definitely do that, (I may have even told you that in my last e-mail, now I don’t remember) and sometimes I start to think maybe I will just keep nursing her for a while longer if she really needs it.

Another AP mom here in Austin, gave me some advice. You may know her — or of her. Her name is Camille North (she edits one of the API newsletters). She said that when her youngest was around 2, she was so ready to be done. He was her third child and she had been nursing pretty much solidly for several years. She began *offering* the breast when he was busy with other things.

I started doing that recently and it really helps a lot! It gives me the feeling that I have some control over the situation, which I think breastfeeding moms often lack, therefore making it more frustrating.

Sometimes she even says no, which I think it huge for her, because it is giving her the feeling that it is available all the time, so she can afford to turn it down.

Basically I think it gives both of us a feeling of control. It releases her overwhelming desire from it, by worrying that it won’t be available if I do the opposite and limit her based on my needs.

It helps a lot. And she is recently down to nursing two or sometimes three times a day. And the best part, she doesn’t ask for it constantly like she was before, so I don’t feel like a jerk for saying no, or feeling resentful sitting there with my 2.5 year-old’s long legs dangling off my lap and wondering why she can’t just eat some cheese. LOL

Actually, I only had to do the offering thing for a couple of months and now she only asks to nurse once during the day, most of the time, so I almost always say yes. We also bargain. Sometimes, we’ll agree that she can nurse, but only for five minutes. Sometimes, she’ll even say it, “Mama, can I nurse for five minutes?” I think that’s her way of saying she just wants a little and it’s really important to her.

I guess, basically, these are the steps I’m taking toward weaning. Trying to give her control over it without feeling like I’m trapped. I have read How Weaning Happens, by Diane Bengson, a couple of times. I like the idea presented in the book that, weaning, is just like any other developmental stage. Just like we help our kids learn to walk and talk, we help our kids learn how to stop nursing. We don’t expect them to just wake up one day and be walking. So we can’t expect that they will just up and wean all by themselves. Some children do that. But I think that most of the time, moms prod them in that direction, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

Can you talk some more about the Montessori co-op?  That sounds like a beautiful thing.  Is it an informal kind of thing?  Do you anticipate sending Annika to a Montessori school?  What about that kind of learning style appeals to you?

The Montessori co-op is very new and relatively informal. I foresee that we will stick with Montessori for pre-school. What I like about Montessori is that the style is very much child-led, but it’s not a free for all. I like that the stages of learning are developmentally appropriate. The theory behind it is that you teach observation skills, and engage the children in their personal interests. Then they learn because they know how, and they are intrigued by the topic. I think learning is, in itself, a skill.

Beyond that, I don’t know. The public school situation is very tenuous right now here in Austin. They’ve just announced the potential closing of several schools. Aside from that, the options here in Austin vary greatly. There are a wide array of private schools, with all sorts of methodology. The homeschooling network is pretty big from what I hear. I recently joined the Yahoo group, but I haven’t participated much at all. And the public school system has some dual language programs, with some new ones starting up in the next couple of years.

I think we will just keep examining our options and then see what fits best with her learning style.

Thank you Martha! Everyone please stop by her blog to learn more about her and her attachment parenting journey!

The Slow Road to Weaning

My toddler Jacob is now 2 years and 2 months old. He breastfeeds several times a day, especially at naptime or at night. Nursing remains an important source of comfort for him. And yet, I am slowly noticing shifts in Jacob’s nursing patterns. For example, at night now I can often re-settle him without nursing. And on a few occasions he’s stopped playing, laid down and fallen asleep all by himself. When we’re out of the house or doing something fun, he can go hours and hours without nursing. And I have noticed that my milk supply is slowly decreasing.

Jacob is not my first nursling. I weaned his older sister, Hannah, when she was 34 months old. But no two children are the same. Hannah’s nursing style, and by extension her weaning style, was very different from her little brother’s. She still nursed 7 or 8 times a day at 2 1/2 years old. Jacob nursed 5 or 6 times a day at 1 1/2 years old. Hannah refused to go to sleep without nursing until she was almost 3. Jacob is much more easily settled with just a pat on the back.

I took an active role in Hannah’s weaning when we reached a point where the relationship wasn’t working for me. I started with partial weaning, using techniques like “don’t offer, don’t refuse”. We worked together to find things to replace breastfeeding – both food and comfort measures. I was worried that I would damage our relationship in some way through weaning, but I am happy to say that it didn’t.

Jacob is one cool breakfast-eater
My son Jacob eats breakfast in style

Through my experience with Hannah I’ve come to view weaning, when handled gently and respectfully, as just another step on the path of childhood. All of the groundwork that you’ve laid throughout your breastfeeding relationship, and through attachment parenting in general, will not be destroyed when the time comes to take the next step. Those ties are strong. And as children get older, they develop skills that help them to connect in other ways. They become more ready to leave nursing behind.

While I took a fairly active role in weaning Hannah, I can see that Jacob’s breastfeeding relationship may draw to a close on a different timetable and without my involvement. Honestly, I feel relieved at the prospect. I love our breastfeeding relationship, and I will look back on it fondly. But I also love that my son is moving in new directions and finding new ways of relating to me. And I am glad that he is finding his own way through that process. Or, at least, that he appears to be.

The only sure thing about breastfeeding is that it will eventually end. There is a bitter sweetness in that truth, and perhaps a lot of unanswered questions about when and how. I’m not sure that when and how breastfeeding ends are the most important things, though. The important things are striving to honor everyone’s needs as best you can, and enjoying breastfeeding while it lasts. Because the happy memories that you can take away from a positive nursing relationship are the real gift of the time your child spends at your breast.

Have you ever weaned a child? What was that experience like for you? Or do you have any thoughts on the weaning process? I’d love it if you shared in the comments!

You can catch up with Amber’s regular adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.